The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Last week, I bought one of my most anticipated reads of the year and discovered that a book I’ve been hearing good things about but knew very little about sounds fantastic!

In case you missed it last week, I reviewed Dark Ascension by M. L. Brennan—and enjoyed it every bit as much as the previous books in the series! Generation V has become one of my favorite series due to its unique vampires and great characters.

On to the new books!

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

Court of Fives (Court of Fives #1) by Kate Elliott

Last week my husband was looking for something else to buy to get some free shipping and asked if there was a book I wanted to get. Of course there was! I ended up deciding to get Kate Elliott’s newly released YA book. I loved her Spirit Walker trilogy, and the Court of Fives series sounds quite interesting too.

An excerpt from Court of Fives can be read on


On the Fives court, everyone is equal.

And everyone is dangerous.

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

This debut novel will be available on September 15 (hardcover, ebook). The first chapter from The Traitor Baru Cormorant can be read on

I’ve seen a lot of advance praise for this one, but I didn’t actually know what it was about until I looked at it after it showed up in the mail this week. After looking at the description, I came to the conclusion that it sounds every bit as good as I’ve heard it is!


THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT is an epic geopolitical fantasy about one woman’s mission to tear down an empire by learning how to rule it.

Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.

The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They’ll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.

In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery – and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.

But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.

Other Books:

Dark Ascension
by M. L. Brennan
320pp (Mass Market Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.83/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.03/5

Dark Ascension, the fourth book in M. L. Brennan’s Generation V series, was released earlier this month. Generation V was both an impressive debut novel and a compelling series opener, and I enjoyed the next book, Iron Night, even more than the first. Tainted Blood, the third novel, was also quite enjoyable, and I was very much looking forward to Dark Ascension since this has become one of my favorite ongoing series.  Like the previous books, it was delightfully entertaining—although it does contain some somber moments.

When a group of succubi request permission to enter his mother’s territory, Fort is required to meet with them to discuss their urgent appeal. While this would normally be a job for his more diplomatic brother Chivalry, he’s out of state and Fort at least has more diplomacy skills than their older sister Prudence, whose approach to problem solving usually involves violence. With his brother unavailable, Fort brings two others for backup: the family secretary, Loren Noka, for her expertise with this type of situation and his girlfriend and bodyguard, Suzume, for her expertise with ass-kicking.

They find three adults with seven children, quite possibly the only remnants of a community that used to contain more than fifty before a skinwalker hunted and killed most of them. Fort is horrified by their story but is not in a position to grant them entrance into the territory and his mother’s protection without discussing their situation with the rest of his family. In the meantime, he does what he can to help them by getting pizza for the kids and giving them what little he has in his bank account—and even convinces his companions to contribute some money to be repaid later.

The next morning, the Scott family convenes to make a decision and Fort has resolved that he will convince his family to accept the succubi’s request. He explains their situation and emphasizes (and exaggerates) the advantages of allowing them into the territory, but Prudence believes there are only disadvantages to aiding them—and is every bit as determined to keep them out as Fort is to let them in. Chivalry is no help to either since he understands both of his siblings’ viewpoints and will not pick one side over the other. Finally, they turn to Madeline for her decision—but are taken by surprise when she refuses to provide one. For months, they have known that their elderly mother is nearing the end of her life, and she says it’s time for them to accept this and begin handling her territory without her leadership.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Generation V series is one of the best urban fantasy series I’ve had the pleasure of reading. For a long time, I had three favorites in this subgenre—Kate Daniels by Ilona Andrews, Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs, and October Daye by Seanan McGuire. That’s now a top four list because of this series, and Generation V is actually now in my top two after reading Dark Ascension. While there are some tragic moments, Fort’s nature and voice keep it from being overwhelmingly grim, and like the previous books in the series, its characters and mythology are quite wonderfully done.

One aspect of the series I’ve particularly enjoyed is the unique version of the vampire myth, and this continues to be a strong point in this book. As mentioned in my recent interview with her, M. L. Brennan has incorporated some of her research on sanguivores into these books, and like the previous installment, this novel delves more into the reality and inconveniences of a blood-based diet. Vampirism and drinking blood is not romanticized—far from it—and I’m glad that the author doesn’t shy away from the darker (or stranger) aspects of being a vampire and how Fort has to come to terms with what he is throughout the series, especially in Dark Ascension.

As much as I love these fantasy elements, the highlight of the series remains its variety of compelling characters. Fort and Suzume are excellent (and frequently hilarious) together. Fort has come a long way since book one, but he hasn’t changed completely: he’s still softhearted enough to give everything in his bank account to people in need that he just met. In comparison, Suzume (or almost anyone, really) can appear hardhearted and selfish, but it’s not because she’s cruel or uncaring—she’s learned to compartmentalize and put her energy toward helping those who matter most. While she may seem critical of Fort’s bleeding heart tendencies, she loves that he cares and doesn’t want him to change; she’s just concerned he’s going to “end up like a marshmallow Peep in the microwave of the world” (pp. 36).

The best interactions in Dark Ascension were those involving the three Scott siblings, though. It’s quite interesting to see how the amount of time each spent basically being human affected their personalities and how they balance each other. Prudence transitioned at the earliest age and doesn’t value human (or most other) life at all, and she and Fort strongly disagree on just about everything except the tastelessness of pornographic staircases. Chivalry usually falls in the middle and can understand both perspectives.

I especially appreciate the characterization of Prudence as I read more about her. She has a completely justified reputation for cruelty and ruthlessness, and it would be easy to depict her as a predictably inhuman one-note villain who hates everyone and is the embodiment of pure evil. However, she’s both friend and foe to Fort—while the two usually have opposing viewpoints and goals, she does genuinely care about her brother and his well-being. This makes her a complex and fascinating character, and I thought Fort summed it up nicely with the following observation: “My sister was never more terrifying to me than when she was showing her affection” (pp. 272).

Dark Ascension contains more of everything I’ve come to love about these books—the engaging narrative voice and equally entertaining dialogue, thoughtful and unique mythology, and well-developed characters—and it also moves the series in a new direction. It is a both a book of change and another fantastic installment in the Generation V series that is every bit as good as its predecessors.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt (Click the link below the cover image)

Other Reviews:

Reviews of Previous Books in the Generation V Series:

  1. Generation V
  2. Iron Night
  3. Tainted Blood

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Last week brought a couple of books, and I’ve begun working on a review of Dark Ascension by M. L. Brennan that I am hoping to finish this week. Like the previous 3 books in the series, I really enjoyed it.

On to recent books in the mail!

The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin

The Sleeping King (Book #1) by Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin

The Sleeping King, the first book in a new series based on the Dragon Crest game, will be released on September 8 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt is available on the Tor/Forge Blog.

Cindy Dees is both an award-winning and bestselling author—she’s won the Golden Heart Award, 2 RITAs, and 2 RT Awards plus her work has been on both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists—and she was also as the youngest woman to ever become a pilot in the Air Force!


The Sleeping King is the start of a new fantasy series by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Cindy Dees.

Dees has won a Golden Heart Award, two RITAs for Category Suspense and Adventure and has also twice snared RT’s Series Romantic Suspense of the Year. She is a great storyteller, and the adventures in her more than fifty novels are often inspired by her own life. Dees is an Air Force vet-the youngest female pilot in Air Force history-and fought in the first Gulf War. She’s had amazing adventures, and she’s used her experiences to tell some kickass stories.

But as much as she loves romances, Cindy’s other passion has been fantasy gaming. For almost twenty years she’s been involved with Dragon Crest, one of the original live action role-playing games. She’s the story content creator on the game, and wanted to do an epic fantasy based on it, with the blessing and input of Dragon Crest founder Bill Flippin.

The Sleeping King is the first in an epic fantasy series, featuring the best of the genre: near immortal imperial overlords, a prophecy of a sleeping elven king who’s said to be the savior of the races . . . and two young people who are set on a path to save the day.

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

Chapelwood (The Borden Dispatches #2) by Cherie Priest

Chapelwood, which follows Maplecroft, will be released on September 1 (trade paperback, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt can be read on the publisher’s website (click “Read an Excerpt” below the cover image).

Cherie Priest’s novel Boneshaker was nominated for both the Nebula and the Hugo and won the Locus Award.


From Cherie Priest, the award-winning author of Maplecroft, comes a new tale of Lizzie Borden’s continuing war against the cosmic horrors threatening humanity…

Birmingham, Alabama is infested with malevolence. Prejudice and hatred have consumed the minds and hearts of its populace. A murderer, unimaginatively named “Harry the Hacker” by the press, has been carving up citizens with a hatchet. And from the church known as Chapelwood, an unholy gospel is being spread by a sect that worships dark gods from beyond the heavens.

This darkness calls to Lizzie Borden. It is reminiscent of an evil she had dared hoped was extinguished. The parishioners of Chapelwood plan to sacrifice a young woman to summon beings never meant to share reality with humanity. An apocalypse will follow in their wake which will scorch the earth of all life.

Unless she stops it…

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration (often unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Starting this week, I’m making some changes to these weekly posts. Usually, I discuss every single book that comes in the mail as long as it’s not one of the occasional books sent to me that is not speculative fiction. When I started this feature, I didn’t receive nearly as many unsolicited copies as I do now, and now it can take a very long time to go through all the books. From now on, I’m only going to show cover images and descriptions of the books that I think look the most interesting, and I’m just going to list the rest with links to Goodreads at the end. This will also include books that do look very interesting but that have already been covered, as one of those showed up this week as well.

In case you missed it last week, I posted my review of my favorite book of 2015 so far, Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb. I love the Realm of the Elderlings books and found this one very satisfying as a long-time fan of the series and characters. An interview with M. L. Brennan, author of the fantastic Generation V series, also went up last week. She discussed why Emma Bull’s War of the Oaks is the book that got her excited about fantasy, vampire myths and tropes, researching sanguivores, the possibility of future stories about Fort’s family or the kitsune, and more. Plus she recommended some books based on some specific criteria.

On to the latest books!

Updraft by Fran Wilde

Updraft by Fran Wilde

This debut novel will be released on September 1 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from Updraft can be read on

I’ve been hearing a lot of great things about this one. It received starred reviews at both Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, and the latter also recognized it as Debut of the Month. I’ve wanted to read it ever since A. C. Wise discussed it in a post about some recent or upcoming SFF debuts by women in April.


In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn’t destroyed outright.

A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire

A Red-Rose Chain (October Daye #9) by Seanan McGuire

The ninth book in the October Daye series will be released on September 1 (ebook and mass market paperback with the audiobook coming in October). This is one of my four favorite urban fantasy series along with Kate Daniels by Ilona Andrews, Generation V by M. L. Brennan, and Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs.

This series should be read in order (though the first book is not as good as the rest, in my opinion, and I know many people don’t come to love the series until the third book):

  1. Rosemary and Rue
  2. A Local Habitation
  3. An Artificial Night
  4. Late Eclipses
  5. One Salt Sea
  6. Ashes of Honor
  7. The Chimes at Midnight
  8. The Winter Long

Things are looking up.

For the first time in what feels like years, October “Toby” Daye has been able to pause long enough to take a breath and look at her life—and she likes what she sees. She has friends. She has allies. She has a squire to train and a King of Cats to love, and maybe, just maybe, she can let her guard down for a change.

Or not. When Queen Windermere’s seneschal is elf-shot and thrown into an enchanted sleep by agents from the neighboring Kingdom of Silences, Toby finds herself in a role she never expected to play: that of a diplomat. She must travel to Portland, Oregon, to convince King Rhys of Silences not to go to war against the Mists. But nothing is that simple, and what October finds in Silences is worse than she would ever have imagined.

How far will Toby go when lives are on the line, and when allies both old and new are threatened by a force she had never expected to face again? How much is October willing to give up, and how much is she willing to change? In Faerie, what’s past is never really gone.

It’s just waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier

Tower of Thorns (Blackthorn & Grim #2) by Juliet Marillier

The second Blackthorn and Grim book, following the Aurealis Award winner Dreamer’s Pool, will be released on November 3 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt from Tower of Thorns can be read on the author’s website.

I haven’t yet read the first book, but I did read a little of the beginning and really liked what little I read. Plus I have heard that it is wonderful!


Award-winning author Juliet Marillier’s “lavishly detailed”* Blackthorn & Grim series continues as a mysterious creature holds an enchanted and imperiled ancient Ireland in thrall.

Disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her companion, Grim, have settled in Dalriada to wait out the seven years of Blackthorn’s bond to her fey mentor, hoping to avoid any dire challenges. But trouble has a way of seeking out Blackthorn and Grim.

Lady Geiléis, a noblewoman from the northern border, has asked for the prince of Dalriada’s help in expelling a howling creature from an old tower on her land—one surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. Casting a blight over the entire district, and impossible to drive out by ordinary means, it threatens both the safety and the sanity of all who live nearby. With no ready solutions to offer, the prince consults Blackthorn and Grim.

As Blackthorn and Grim begin to put the pieces of this puzzle together, it’s apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest is about to become a life and death struggle—a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.

*Publishers Weekly

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Last weekend I went to the Rock City Cafe in Rockland, Maine, for a latte and a cookie and was delighted to discover that there was a bookstore behind the coffee shop. Of course, I had to check it out! I’ve heard that Station Eleven is excellent so I couldn’t resist getting a copy when I saw it.


A National Book Award Finalist
A PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

Towers Fall by Karina Sumner-Smith

Towers Fall (Towers Trilogy #3) by Karina Sumner-Smith

The third book in the Towers Trilogy will be released on November 3 (trade paperback, ebook). An excerpt from the first book in the series, Radiant, can be read on the author’s website.

Radiant is one of the more unique books I’ve read with an intriguing world and gorgeous writing. I’m reading the second book, Defiant, now.


War. Fire. Destruction. Xhea believed that the Lower City had weathered the worst of its troubles—that their only remaining fight would be the struggle to rebuild before winter. She was wrong.

Now her home is under attack from an unexpected source. The Central Spire, the City’s greatest power, is intent on destroying the heart of the magical entity that resides beneath the Lower City’s streets. The people on the ground have three days to evacuate—or else.

With nowhere to go and time running out, Xhea and the Radiant ghost Shai attempt to rally a defense. Yet with the Spire’s wrath upon them, nothing—not their combined magic, nor their unexpected allies—may be strong enough to protect them from the power of the City.

From Nebula Award–nominated author Karina Sumner-Smith, Towers Fall is a fantastic climax to this amazing and thought-provoking trilogy.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

Shadows of Self (A Mistborn Novel) by Brandon Sanderson

Shadows of Self will be released on October 6 (hardcover, ebook). It will be the fifth published Mistborn book and the middle book in a second Mistborn trilogy set 300 years after the first.

Goodreads currently has a giveaway of The Alloy of Law, the previous book in this trilogy, and a giveaway of Shadows of Self. Both giveaways are US/Canada only.

The prologue, chapter one, and chapter two from Shadows of Self are available to read on


The #1 New York Times bestselling author returns to the world of Mistborn with his first novel in the series since The Alloy of Law.

With The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a New York Times bestselling spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America.

The trilogy’s heroes are now figures of myth and legend, even objects of religious veneration. They are succeeded by wonderful new characters, chief among them Waxillium Ladrian, known as Wax, hereditary Lord of House Ladrian but also, until recently, a lawman in the ungoverned frontier region known as the Roughs. There he worked with his eccentric but effective buddy, Wayne. They are “twinborn,” meaning they are able to use both Allomantic and Feruchemical magic.

Shadows of Self shows Mistborn’s society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts.

This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial’s progress in its tracks.

Shadows of Self will give fans of The Alloy of Law everything they’ve been hoping for and, this being a Brandon Sanderson book, more, much more.

Other Books:

Today I am delighted to have an interview with M. L. Brennan, author of the wonderful Generation V series! I realized I had come across something special when I read Generation V, which is an excellent first book, and I’ve only come to love the series more with each book I’ve read. It’s entertaining—and often hilarious!—with excellent characters and an interesting twist on vampires. Dark Ascension, the fourth book in the series, was one of my most anticipated books of 2015 after I found out it was coming out this year, and I started reading it soon after its release last week (and, like the previous books, I am enjoying it immensely!).

Generation V by M. L. Brennan Dark Ascension by M. L. Brennan

Fantasy Cafe: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions! The first three Generation V books are some of my favorite urban fantasy books, and I’m very excited about Dark Ascension—and, of course, also that you are here today! First, I was wondering about your earlier experiences with discovering fantasy and science fiction. You credit War for the Oaks by Emma Bull as the book that led to your love of genre fiction even though it wasn’t your introduction to it. Why did this particular book resonate with you so strongly? Did you immediately want to start writing genre stories or did that come later?

M. L. Brennan: Thanks so much for having me! I enjoyed genre fiction for many years, but I do credit Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks as being the book that first got me very excited about urban fantasy as a particular sub-genre. I think what made the book stand out so much was that Bull’s protagonist isn’t a detective, or a private investigator, or in any way initially connected to the mystical world – which, up until then, was pretty much the only mold that I’d seen urban fantasy cast in. Bull’s protagonist, Eddi, is a small-time musician in local bands – and getting unwillingly hauled into a conflict between warring faerie courts isn’t going to distract her from her life, her desire to make a band hit it big, and her pre-existing friendships. There’s such a great focus on character and scenery in this book. I stumbled across War for the Oaks about fifteen years after it was initially published, but I found it just electrifying – just as electrifying as it was to urban fantasy as a whole, because there are a lot of big series that owe a tip of their hats to Emma Bull.

At the time that I read War for the Oaks, I was an undergraduate in college. At the time I was writing fairly seriously, and had already had some of my short stories published in well-respected magazines, but I was working in literary fiction. I continued working in that field through grad school, and actually wrote one literary fiction novel after I’d received my MFA – a novel that, rather thankfully, was never published. But as a writer you’re always accumulating ideas and storylines, so after I’d come to the unfortunate end of my two-year push to get my existing novel published (and realized that it wasn’t going to happen), I decided to write something that would be fun and a palate-cleanser – and that book was Generation V, the first in my series, and War for the Oaks definitely cast a long shadow while I was writing.

FC: One particular feature of your series that I (and many other readers!) enjoy is your unique twist on vampires. What do you find appealing about vampire myths and what are some of your own favorite stories about them? Were there any vampire tropes in fiction that you especially wanted to skewer when you began writing the series?

MLB: Something that I enjoy so much about the vampire as a character type is how flexible, yet at the same time permanent, they are in the public consciousness. If you read up on classic vampire myths you see an amazing progression in how we regard them and what we believe – but they have a resilience in books and films. There’s the Stoker presentation of Dracula (significantly less sexy in the book than in any film, by the way), then the film presentations of Stoker’s Dracula, then Anne Rice’s vampires in book and film, then the behemoth of Meyer’s Twilight vampires. Then there are, easily, a dozen high-profile writers in urban fantasy alone who have vampires of some type. Many are very different, yet we all seem to agree on almost all of the basics (undead creatures, changed by another vampire, fangs, blood-drinking, attraction to teenage girls).

When you look into older vampire myths, so much of what we take as common ground is actually part of our modern creation. Something as basic as how a vampire is created, for example – in a lot of older stories, vampires are the result of a sin on the part of a child’s parents. Sometimes it’s not even a sin – one of my favorite old vampire stories is that a vampire is created when a woman does not ingest salt during her pregnancy. (talk about something that What To Expect When You’re Expecting failed to mention!) Or even what a vampire is will come up. My absolute favorite old vampire belief involves gourds – don’t leave your picked gourds outside overnight, or they will become vampires. (Twilight would probably play a little differently if it was about sparkly gourds)

In terms of tropes – I was a bit tired of the whole vampire presentation. Sexy, brooding, ageless, hanging around for centuries doing not much of anything until the day comes that they fall in love with an attractive and moody teenage girl. To me, there didn’t seem to be much particularly interesting about it, and worse, it just didn’t make any sense to me. A non-aging creature of the night that can reproduce itself with just a few drops of blood? That’s what we call a population crisis just waiting to happen! They’d be worse than rabbits in Australia! Plus, if a creature is never going to die a natural death, then most of life’s basic impetus is taken off of them. There’s no urgency, no worry – just wait around another forty or four-hundred years!

So putting my own twists on vampires really grew out of my own desire for them to not only make sense, but to make them more interesting to me as a writer. That led to the creation of a life-cycle, a parasitic-appropriate reproductive system, and also my own particular nod to the logical outcome of a vampire bride.

FC: When doing research for Tainted Blood, you found Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures by zoologist Bill Schutt a great resource and wrote that “Many scenes owe their existence to Schutt’s excellent book” in the acknowledgments. What are some of the most surprising or interesting pieces of information you learned about sanguivores from this, and what scenes resulted (if you can say without spoilers)?

MLB: I do owe a great deal to Bill Schutt’s excellent and riveting book, which also has a particularly sly sense of humor that made for great reading. Some things were just wonderful little pieces of practicality – for example, Schutt was in charge of tending to the vampire bats at the Cornell bat lab, and that involved feeding them. Simple, we think – not so. The lab was supplied with blood from a local stockyard, which Schutt and another grad student would go down and get. But it turns out that you can’t just stick blood in a freezer – the clotting factors will turn it into a messy lump that will just thaw into a solid, not a liquid. The solution is that the clotting factors have to be manually removed – and that is done by agitating the blood with little hand colanders, then scooping out the clots as they appear. (hospitals get around this by adding trisodium citrate, btw) This turned into one of my favorite scenes of Tainted Blood, where Fort’s sister Prudence walks him through the process of creating defibrinated blood in her kitchen.

There was another particular tidbit that I learned from Schutt’s first-hand experience with vampire bats that became a scene in Dark Ascension. I won’t give away too much, because I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but let’s just say that being an obligate sanguivore is just about the most inefficient feeding system on the planet – lots of liquid intake with low nutritional value. There’s only so much that the stomach can fit at a time, and most of that is just useless water. I won’t say any more, but bats have developed a certain bodily tactic to address this that rather adds insult to injury.

FC: One aspect of your series that I love is how each book reveals a little more about the world and myths surrounding it, and I think you achieve just the right balance between too much and too little information: there’s enough to be satisfying but there are still some tantalizing mysteries to look forward to learning more about in future volumes. What is your process for achieving this balance?

MLB: I tried my best to never overload any particular book, but at the same time I didn’t really want too many things to suddenly just crop up. One of the ways that I approached this was in terms of creatures. The elves, for example, are key players in Iron Night, particularly their use of modern technology to address their population crisis. I knew I was going to be working with them, so I included a scene in Generation V that introduced them in broad terms – that way, when they came up in a bigger way in the next book, there was an element of recognition rather than them being something completely new that I had to introduce from the ground up. For the most part I’ve also tried to do that with the other elements that are important to the story – whenever Fort is going to have a particular issue with his family, or if something is going to be an important plot point in a later book, I try my best to lay it in as a tertiary scene in the present book. That’s worked pretty well when I knew for sure where I was going – other times, when I came up with a great idea while I was elbow-deep in the book I wanted it to go into, it hasn’t quite happened as smoothly!

FC: How many books do you plan to write in this series? Have you considered writing any prequels about any other members of Fort’s family?

MLB: There are six books planned in the series. Dark Ascension is probably the book that I was the most excited to write, since it’s really setting the stage for the major thematic conflicts in the last two books, and in a lot of ways it’s the book where the safety net suddenly gets pulled out from under Fort.

I’d enjoy writing a short story here or there about Fort’s family – they’ve got a lot of history and backstory that right now is existing primarily in my notes – but I’m not sure there’d be much interest in a full novel. What I do get near-weekly emails and questions about is when I’m going to write a book that puts the kitsune center-stage! That’s actually something that would be much more likely to happen.

FC: I love reading your book recommendations on your blog and want more! But, let’s get more specific. What books or series would you recommend people read if they loved these particular aspects of your own books…

  1. The narrative voice and sense of humor?
    Definitely Lish McBride’s Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. Lish and I have joked that Fort and Sam would be best friends.
  2. The different spin on vampire mythology?
    Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kinkaid series has a very fun spin on the whole concept of creatures like vampires or succubi. It’s a very fun series with an excellent payoff in the last book.
  3. The inclusion of some mythological beings not commonly occurring in fantasy fiction (such as kitsune and metsän kunigas)?
    War for the Oaks includes a phouka, which I’d never seen featured in that form before, and it’s hilarious.
  4. Character interactions that keep one glued to the pages?
    Patrick Weekes’s The Palace Job.
  5. A mysterious history/background that is fun to discover as the book/series progresses?
    Stephen Blackmoore’s Eric Carter series has an amazing series of mysteries and reveals – I’m eagerly awaiting the third in that series!
  6. Endearing characters (like Fort and Suzume)?
    Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
  7. Characters that are interesting because you find yourself liking them one moment and disliking them the next (like Chivalry and Prudence—or, at least, that’s how I feel about them!)?
    A: Max Gladstone’s Craft series. Lots of twists and turns, and I think that Two Serpents Rise was his strongest character book.

Book Description from Penguin Random House (CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR FOOL’S ASSASSIN):

Ranking alongside George R. R. Martin as a groundbreaking master of fantasy, New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb delivers the second book in her long-awaited Fitz and the Fool trilogy.

The harrowing adventures of FitzChivalry Farseer and his enigmatic friend the Fool continue in Robin Hobb’s triumphant follow-up to Fool’s Assassin. But Fool’s Quest is more than just a sequel. With the artistry and imagination her fans have come to expect, Hobb builds masterfully on all that has gone before, revealing devastating secrets and shocking conspiracies that cast a dark shadow over the history of Fitz and his world—a shadow that now stretches to darken all future hope.

Long ago, Fitz and the Fool changed the world, bringing back the magic of dragons and securing both the Farseer succession and the stability of the kingdom. Or so they thought. But now the Fool is near death, maimed by mysterious pale-skinned figures whose plans for world domination hinge upon the powers the Fool may share with Fitz’s own daughter.

Distracted by the Fool’s perilous health, and swept up against his will in the intrigues of the royal court, Fitz lets down his guard . . . and in a horrible instant, his world is undone and his beloved daughter stolen away by those who would use her as they had once sought to use the Fool—as a weapon.

But FitzChivalry Farseer is not without weapons of his own. An ancient magic still lives in his veins. And though he may have let his skills as royal assassin diminish over the years, such things, once learned, are not so easily forgotten.

Now enemies and friends alike are about to learn that nothing is more dangerous than a man who has nothing left to lose.

Fool’s Quest, the second book in Robin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool trilogy, is out in the US today! As mentioned in my recent review of the previous book, Fool’s Assassin, this trilogy is related to other series about the same characters and is not the place to begin reading, as wonderful as it is. Fortunately, the series leading up to this one are also excellent as well, and having read them is part of what made this book absolutely fantastic—as a long-time fan of these books and characters, there are parts that are immensely satisfying. Because I do not want to spoil any of these incredible moments for anyone, this review may be rather vague but suffice to say that it’s been awhile since I read a book I loved so very much. (I realize that I just said that about about a book a couple of months ago, but I actually enjoyed Fool’s Quest even more than Uprooted!)

While Fool’s Assassin was delightful, it was a slower book until toward the end. Fool’s Quest continues after these exciting developments and starts to pull in more of the epic while remaining character-centric. Less time is spent focused on everyday life, and Fitz spends more time with the other characters than in the first book, some of whom share the spotlight as well. Robin Hobb is superb at writing characters and poignant moments between them, and while some of the best parts of the book involve Fitz spending time with characters we’ve come to know in previous books, she also introduces some wonderful new characters in this installment. Even the animals often steal the stage, and I was particularly impressed with the crow Motley. While many animals convey more complex thoughts through the Wit, Motley does not, yet she still has her own mannerisms and quirks that make her memorable even without this. Like many of the characters in these books, she faces difficulty because she is different—the other crows will not accept her since she has some white feathers—but even aside from being immediately sympathetic due to this, she’s incredibly drawn due to the intelligence and personality shown in her scenes.

I also appreciated that Shun, a new character introduced in the previous book in this trilogy, was given more depth. Shun was spoiled and demanding and did not seem to have a single redeeming quality in the first novel. In this book, she’s still far from perfect, but I found myself admiring her bravery and even liking her at times. This reminded me a little of Malta in Liveship Traders, who was irritating in the beginning though she grew by the end of the trilogy, but it didn’t seem like the same situation. Perhaps Shun will also transform as a character, but I rather suspect the difficulties she faced just allowed us to see a different side of her since she still had some of the same qualities.

The writing is a rarity—dense without seeming so. There are often lengthy paragraphs and each chapter begins with a piece of writing that is often verbose yet it’s so immersive that I didn’t notice this while reading. While it’s a huge book, it never felt overlong, nor were there parts I wished to rush through to get to better parts since all of it was worth reading. At first, it did bother me that it seemed like the characters were interrupted every time they began to discuss their situation enough to begin piecing it together. While the timing was perhaps too convenient and even seemed to be taunting me at times, I ended up being glad that this was delayed. If it hadn’t been, it may have propelled some events forward quickly enough that some of the unforgettable, gratifying scenes in this book could not have taken place.

By the end, more of the wider world is involved and it’s moving toward becoming a more epic story (and I also now wonder if it would be helpful to read the four books in the Rain Wilds Chronicles before this trilogy, but I didn’t feel lost even without having read them). Like the last book, this one does end on a horrible cliffhanger and the wait for the next book is excruciating.

Fool’s Quest is not only even more excellent than the first book in the trilogy but is also the most satisfying novel about FitzChivalry Farseer of all. Though the world is an amazing place to explore, the deft characterization and smooth writing truly bring this book to life, especially the poignant scenes between some of the characters I’ve long enjoyed reading about. Robin Hobb is a phenomenal writer who has written many of the best fantasy books I’ve had the pleasure of reading—and while I’m not sure I could select a single favorite from her many beloved novels, Fool’s Quest is the one I’d pick if I must.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC/finished copy from the publisher. (I mostly read the ARC but I read later parts of the book in the hardcover version).

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